Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of May. Photo via Getty Images

It's time to look at what's on the agenda for May for Houston innovators — from pitch competitions to networking events.

Here's a roundup of events not to miss this month. Mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

May 1-4 — Offshore Technology Conference

Since 1969, OTC has served as a central hub convening the best and brightest minds in the world to share ideas, and innovations and discuss, debate, and build consensus around the most pressing topics facing the offshore energy sector.

The event is Monday, May 1, to Thursday, May 4, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

May 2 — EDGE Technology Showcase 2023: Delivering the Future

Oceanit’s 2023 EDGE Technology Showcase will run alongside Houston's Offshore Technology Conference, the Oceanit EDGE Technology Showcase event will feature technologies that are delivering the future, from deep sea to deep space — from disruptive innovations to scalable turnkey solutions.

The event is Tuesday, May 2, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, at 1940 Air Terminal Museum. Click here to register.

May 3 — Women, Wine & Web Design - Houston

Create a web page, enjoy some wine, and network with like-minded Houston area women.

The event is Wednesday, May 3, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, at Improving (10111 Richmond Ave.). Click here to register.

May 10 — Energy 2.0 UN-Conference - NetZero: A Race We Can All Win

Energy 2.0 is the UNconference where we celebrate diverse perspectives, technologies, and people driving the energy transition forward.

The event is Wednesday, May 10, from 8 am to 5 pm, at Woodside Energy (1500 Post Oak Blvd.). Click here to register.

May 11 — Investor Studio Series Dream Big Ventures x Ion

Hear from experts Staci Latoison, founder of Dream Big Ventures; Ramona Ortega, founder and CEO of WealthBuild.ai; and Nan Almodovar, CEO & broker.

The event is Thursday, May 11, from 5 to 7 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

May 11-13 — Rice Business Plan Competition

With access to mentors, real-world experience and investment opportunities, the Rice Business Plan Competition helps student founders stay on target and realize their potential. Click here to see the 2023 teams.

The event is Thursday, May 11, to Saturday, May 13, at Rice University. Click here to register.

May 12 — Linkedin Profile Refresh Workshop

This event is not just about learning new tips and tricks; it's about putting them into practice right then and there.

During the workshop, you'll have the opportunity to work on your LinkedIn profile in real-time, making changes and optimizing it for more visibility and opportunities.

The event is Friday, May 12, from 8:30 to 10:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

May 17 — Engage VC: Scale Venture Partners

Alex Niehenke, Partner at Scale Venture Partners is coming to Houston and will be featured in our fireside chat moderated by Emily Hak, Managing Director, Private Capital Markets at Insperity.

The event is Wednesday, May 17, from 8:30 to 10:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

May 17-19: Ion Activation Festival

Ion District is celebrating its second annual festival of innovation in Houston, known as Activation Festival which will feature:

  • A multi-day showcase of Ion District + Ion and its innovation ecosystem partners
  • An array of futuristic activations and programs alongside a lineup of engaging keynote speakers and experiences
  • A community-wide block party Friday to celebrate the heart of Houston's new innovation district

The event is Wednesday, May 17, to Friday, May 19, at The Ion. Click here to register.

May 18 — Softeq Venture Studio Houston Investor Demo Day: H1 2023 Cohort

At the Houston Investor Demo Day, founders will give their 3-minute pitch, followed by a networking session where you may get a demo of their product and ask any questions. We need you there to evaluate them for investment and give them feedback! Afterward, happy hour and dinner.

The event is Thursday, May 18, from 3 to 7 pm, at Fleming's Steakhouse (CityCentre). Click here to register.

May 23 — Houston Veterans In Residence Showcase

Bunker Labs’ Veterans in Residence Showcase is a nationwide event, celebrating our program participants as they have completed Bunker Labs' six month Veterans in Residence Program.

The event is Tuesday, May 23, from 6 to 8 pm, at Impact Hub Houston. Click here to register.

May 25 — Greentown Houston + BCG X Pitch Day

Join Greentown Houston and BCG X for a pitch competition featuring Greentown startups that are raising their pre-seed and seed rounds to grow their networks and scale their cutting-edge climatetech solutions. The winners will walk away with a total of $10,000 in cash prizes and services support from BCG X. We will also have a Fan Favorite prize, sponsored by O'Melveny who will provide in-kind service in the form of 5 hours of virtual 1:1 office consult on general corporate matters.

The event is Thursday, May 25, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

May 30-31 — Women in Tech Texas

Discover the technologies in today's quickly changing world and learn new forward-thinking concepts in business and the workforce that will radically change our future. Join over 1,000 leading women in technology and diversity champions driving the innovation revolution to pioneer the future of technology and business.

The event is Tuesday, May 30, to Wednesday, May 31, at the Hyatt Regency. Click here to register.

May 31 — Demystifying Startup Impact Investing: SWAN Impact Network

SWAN Impact Network is joining the startup ecosystem in Houston. Join the organization for a panel with local thought leaders on "Demystifying Startup Impact Investing” and a time for networking over light bites and drinks. SWAN is an angel network whose members put their money to work to make a difference by enabling creative entrepreneurs with solid plans for financial success to address the world’s most pressing problems.

The event is Wednesday, May 31, from 6 to 7:30 pm, at Ion Houston. Click here to register.

Angel investors, corporate venture, and more options for Houston startups outside of the traditional venture capital model.

Houston innovator shares investment opportunities outside traditional VC model

guest column

In my last column about tapping into Houston's venture capital ecosystem, I identified the 31 venture capitalists in Houston. By most measures Houston is around 0.5 to 1 percent of US venture capital activity, and that low volume is reflected in the limited number of venture capitalists locally.

But outside of venture capital funds, founders often pull money from other places including angel investors, seed funds and corporate venture capital arms as well as cross-over investors. I got asked this morning by a founder at the Ion, where’s the rest of the list?

Houston has five active corporate venture capital funds, or CVCs, with at least one senior investment professional in Houston with and one with headquarters here (Chevron). A short list of the key investment professionals in the group includes:

There are maybe half a dozen other corporates In Houston that organize around a fund structure and governance of some type, and have been actively investing in venture capital rounds with professionals in Houston. Equinor, a long time corporate investor, Baker Hughes which relaunched a CVC effort in 2021, Mitsubishi has investment professionals in Houston, and Williams which launched a new CVC effort in 2022, as well as Occidental, BHP, and Waste Management which had active CVC efforts in the past that have gone a bit on ice, as did ConocoPhillips, P66 and Schlumberger. Two larger private equity funds Ara Partners and Quantum are active in venture capital deals, but in a more mixed model. This universe would probably add another 30 to 40 Houston based active investment professionals.

The city also has around 10 angel networks, pre-seed funds, pre-seed investors, and accelerators that write checks, typically in the $100K to $1 million range, but either without committed venture funds in an acceleration model, at varying degrees of active, scale, model, and type.

Layering them in no particular order the Houston universe expands by another dozen full time or mostly full time professionals, and a few dozen angels. I’ve included their main contacts below:

These are certainly not large numbers for a city our size, and commensurate with the size of the Houston startup market. But while the cupboard may be a bit bare, it’s not empty. As a founder chasing money, that’s about 75 to 100 names to go chase, with probably double that in active or semi-active angel investors investing through these pools.

------

Neal Dikeman is a venture capitalist and seven-time startup co-founder investing out of Energy Transition Ventures.

Fourteen companies are joining the spring cohort of the Softeq Venture Studio. Photo courtesy of Softeq

Spring cohort announced for Houston tech company's startup accelerator

ready to grow

A Houston tech company has announced the latest cohort of its accelerator program, bringing the total number of startups supported by the company to 63.

Softeq Development Corp., a technology services development company, named 14 new startups joining its three-month spring Softeq Venture Studio cohort.

“We are so proud of the success we have had with the Softeq Venture Studio, helping to support and secure funding for 63 startups to date through the Softeq Venture Fund," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq. "With 23 of 89 founders coming from outside of the U.S., we demonstrate Houston’s growing influence as a startup hub where entrepreneurs can find a welcoming innovation community, a strong talent base, and world-class research facilities."

The spring 2023 cohort for Softeq includes:

  • Houston-based AIM7, data intelligence platform that unlocks wearable and mHealth data to provide customized and predictive wellness solutions.
  • Avendly, based in Providence, Rhode Island, makes robotic automation for restaurants to help, not supplant humans. Its first of many products is Mixibot, an integrated back-bar cocktail vending system.
  • Founded in Austin, ClioVis, is meeting today’s content-creator students where they are and how they learn. The company provides unique experiential learning tools designed for today’s content-creator students who learn by doing, not lectures.
  • Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Flometrica, is a digital health solution featuring "use anywhere" devices to remotely monitor and diagnose various urinary tract problems through analysis of different urine parameters.
  • Gophr, from Lake Charles, Louisiana, is a technology-driven logistics company that provides tailored and efficient delivery solutions for various industries, individuals, and businesses of all sizes.
  • Chicago-based KarChing puts cash in teens’ hands for safe driving. The only app built for parents, teens, and insurance companies that rewards drivers for phone- and distraction-free behavior behind the wheel.
  • Houston-founded Meander collects travel customer satisfaction micro-surveys as people go about their trips. The research platform rewards travelers for sharing their pics, videos, and insights.
  • MEedia, based in Sacramento, California, puts a professional press conference event in your pocket. Individuals can create broadcast-worthy interactive shareable content with just their phone.
  • MeterLeader, from Huntington Beach, California, gamifies saving energy in homes by using real-time utility data and behavioral science. We're like a Fitbit challenge for your home, but instead of steps we measure kWh, therm, and CO2 reductions.
  • Houston-based PayOnDelivery, integrates secure payment with delivery for markets like Craigslist and Facebook. It’s low-hassle, fraud-free buying and selling for peer-to-peer marketplaces.
  • Another Lake Charles business, Picasso Analytics has a platform that can reduce delays and save oil refiners and petrochem owners 10 to 15 percent on multi-million dollar turnaround events by providing a single source of truth integrating the schedule, time entry, and shop status.
  • Sarasota, Florida-based Toivoa develops software-based therapies for people with disabilities who experience mental health disorders. On track for FDA approval, the platform is prescription-based, clinically validated, and delivered on your phone.
  • UpBrainery Technologies, founded in Houston, helps students explore careers through digital experiences. AI guides their interests in career paths and credentials their achievements for employers and colleges.
  • Also from Houston, WellWorth (https://wellworthapp.com/), is a financial modeling SaaS platform that helps upstream oil and gas finance leaders improve their decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.

Softeq Venture Studio launched over a year ago with its inaugural cohort in 2021, and the fund was launched last year. Since launch, Softeq has raised 80 percent of its inaugural $40 million Softeq Venture Fund and made investments in 63 startups. Softeq has also reformatted its accelerator program to include two cohort classes per year, allowing for more time to be spent with the Venture Studio and its cohort startups.

Softeq Venture Studio's growing portfolio of startups in its accelerator work out of FUSE Workspace in City Centre. Image via fuseworkspace.com

Houston tech company adds 22 startups to its accelerator

now accelerating

A Houston early-stage accelerator has named 22 startups to its latest cohort.

Softeq Development Corp. has announced the companies joining the Softeq Venture Studio, the tech services company's accelerator program. A total of 22 companies have joined the program — hailing from the United Kingdom, Iceland, Mexico, Peru, and across the United States. This addition nearly doubles the program's portfolio, bringing the total number of startups to 49.

“This year has been a significant one for the Softeq Venture Fund and our portfolio companies. Due to the hard work of our team and the success achieved by previous founders, we’ve seen our investors and our entrepreneurs evolve to be more global than ever, and with more ambitious plans to revolutionize their industries," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. "We continue to attract world-class founders to Houston for our program that de-risks startups and investments."

Howard also announced a new limited partner. Houston entrepreneur Craig Ceccanti — co-founder of Pinot’s Palette and Rivalry Technologies — is the latest investor to join the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund, which is anticipated to close by the end of the year.

“Investors constantly search for opportunities that balance opportunity and risk, and ones that help us grow and maximize returns while maintaining a measure of stability and diversification,” says Ceccanti in the release. “Joining the Softeq Venture Fund is an exciting opportunity because it provides a de-risked investment opportunity plus the ability to participate in a hands-on fashion in Houston within these high-growth industries.”

The trend among the new cohort joining the program for the next three months includes health tech, sports tech, fintech, e0-commerce, Web 3.0, and more. Participating starups will have access to FUSE Workspace, as well as support and guidance from Softeq Venture Studio staff, Softeq engineers, local mentors, investors, and earlier cohort members.

“During our startup journey, we participated in leading technology accelerator Y Combinator. Later on, we realized through our users’ feedback we needed to improve our product with additional technology expertise and support to reach our full potential,” says Gerardo Briones, founder and CEO of new cohort startup Pagaloop of Mexico City. “That’s why we chose to participate in the Softeq Venture Studio. Softeq engineers have experience building enterprise-grade applications that scale up. We also get more opportunities to meet investors to bring our product to all of Latin America.”

The complete list of the new cohort of the Softeq Venture Fund, according to the news release, includes the following companies:

  • Adkaddy gets brands out of your email and into a powerful brand management tool. From discovery to promotions, shipping and receipts, this is digital commerce your way.
  • Allkind is benefiting reproductive healthcare globally by innovating fertility matching, empowering personal goals & improving modern family building.
  • atease is where 133 million government and military employees with strict rental requirements find approved, affordable, and reimbursable lodging options.
  • Boxes provides convenient, space-efficient, highly measurable, sampling and trial vending technology for premium CPG companies looking to reach customers where they shop and live.
  • Hapi is a stock trading platform with no minimums and no commissions focused on consumers in Latin America.
  • HelloDoctor puts qualified, responsive, and affordable doctors on the screens of 89 million cell phones of patients in Mexico. Healthcare just got better in Latin America.
  • Hightag is an automated media capture and delivery system that helps mountain bikers, skiers, and other action sport athletes capture and share their greatest moments.
  • IncentiFind is the nation’s go-to database of green building incentives, transforming U.S. real estate through $70 billion in incentives.
  • JamFeed aggregates artists' social media and music streaming content into an automated no-code website where artists can control their brand, their business, and their relationship with fans in one platform in less than 5 minutes.
  • Lesson Squad helps brands turn their customers into loyal users by creating a branded hub where customers can take lessons, enter competitions, and discover products.
  • LVED is an easy to use expert guided platform that provides everything families need to plan, organize, legally document end of life wishes, and memorialize loved ones.
  • Mesada is a digital remittance company that is utilizes blockchain technology to offer fast, efficient, and easy money transfers throughout the Latin American region.
  • Motusi is a whole-body wearable with AI to generate deeper insights related to movement quality and injury insights to help athletes progress in their performance or recovery.
  • MyShoots is an app for shooting sports organizations to connect with and market to their clients more efficiently, while allowing field-sports brands to connect with their customers.
  • Pagaloop is a fintech company that allows Latin American businesses more control over their cash flow when performing B2B transactions.
  • RESCUNOMICS offers a mobile app that helps save lives by expediting rescuer protocols and providing visibility into building floor plans and more.
  • sEATz connects fans to concessions and merchandise for in-seat delivery or pick-up reducing concession lines, increasing throughput, improving sales, and driving fan satisfaction.
  • SpecsX is transforming eye care into a virtual care model reducing costs, inconvenience for patients and providers, and giving everyone access to perfect vision.
  • Struttur Sports is an NFT platform where athletes share their experiences by connecting and combining digital and In Real Life events to create the deep interactions sports fans crave.
  • Svarmi is a digital platform that defines and prioritizes areas where business and progress influence nature providing meaningful, insightful metrics and proof of regulatory compliance.
  • SynvergySvn digitizes the movements of athletes with integrated wearables like the J-Sleeve so players, coaches, and trainers can diagnose muscle memory and improve repeat performance.
  • WulfTech protects and preserves the health of high-value K9 working dogs through smart wearable technology for government agencies, the military, and first responders.

The Softeq Venture Studio announced its inaugural cohort a year ago, and the fund was launched earlier this year. In August, Softeq expanded to New Hampshire to reach more startups and entrepreneurs.

Through a partnership with New Hampshire investors, Softeq has expanded its venture studio out of state. Image via hrknsscowork.com

Houston tech company's venture studio secures $5M investment, expands out of state

investing in investors

A Houston tech services company has announced fresh funding and a new location for its venture studio focused on growing startups.

Softeq Development Corp. announced an additional commitment of $5 million to the Softeq Venture Fund. With the investment, Softeq has a new partnership that will work toward creating a satellite venture studio in New Hampshire with local investors. Launch New Hampshire will leverage the Softeq Venture Studio platform to back qualified startups from within and outside New Hampshire, according to a news release from Softeq.

“It’s a great time to invest in startup companies, and we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between the growing innovation community here in Houston and the untapped investment community in New Hampshire,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. “We’re excited about this partnership because it provides the Softeq Venture Studio with a source of high-quality startups while also fostering the innovation ecosystem in New Hampshire and New England.”

The Softeq Venture Studio announced its inaugural cohort last year, launching to act as an investor and accelerator program that provides mentors, resources, and workspaces for promising tech startups. This is the first expansion of the program and the latest investment into the Softeq Venture Fund, which has raised over $25 million of its $40 million goal.

Michael and Jamie Simchik, New Hampshire real estate developers, and Terry Anderton, an experienced technology entrepreneur, are the founders of Launch NH. The satellite cohort will work out of HRKNSScowork in Concord, New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire has been slow to adopt an innovation ecosystem, but with nearby Boston enjoying continued startup successes, we have the unique opportunity to leverage what is happening in Massachusetts, as well as in Vermont and Maine,” says Simchik, founder and CEO of HRKNSScowork. “By working with Softeq, we want to help build the innovation community statewide and drive broad-based startup activity in the region, similar to what Softeq has accomplished in its Houston headquarters.”

Anderton founded Wagz, which was recently acquired, an early participant in the Softeq accelerator program. Through his experience with Softeq, the company says he wanted to help bring the program other startups in the region.

The Softeq Venture Studio has made investments into 27 startups from across the globe since it launched in 2021. Over the next three years, per the release, Softeq intends to invest in 40 companies each year, including at least 12 via Launch NH.

The Softeq Venture Studio has named 14 startups — two from Houston — to its third cohort. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company's venture studio names new partner and cohort

developing tech

A Houston-based tech company has named a new limited partner and 14 new startups to its venture arm.

Softeq Development Corporation announced its third group of early-stage startups to join theSofteq Venture Studio, which is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses. With 14 startups, the summer 2022 cohort is the largest yet and brings the total portfolio to 27 companies. Additionally, the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund welcomed Royal Eagle Capital Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, as a limited partner with its $3 million commitment.

“We are thrilled to see how much the Softeq Venture Studio has grown since 2021,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “We’re also pleased to welcome Royal Eagle Capital Partners as an investment partner in our Venture Fund, which allowed us to achieve more than 50 percent of our funding goal in just five months. We look forward to building on this partnership and growing Softeq in North America, Latin America, and beyond.”

Softeq is also celebrating a recent expansion into Latin America and staffing the new regional office with 30 engineers. The company has plans to grow to 150 employees in the region over the next year.

“The Softeq Venture Fund presents a unique opportunity to diversify our holdings within the alternative investments space. The concept of risk mitigation in venture investments resonates with investment firms globally, and we are excited to be working with Softeq and the amazing talent of their early-stage companies,” said Mark Valdez — co-founder, managing partner, and chief investment officer at Royal Eagle Capital Partners — in the release. "The emphasis on growth in Latin America by Softeq was a driving factor for our commitment and will open the door to new opportunities in Mexico and beyond.”

The Q2 2022 cohort is from across the United States with even some international representatives. The companies are using tech to solve problems across industries from human resources and wellness to med-tech and sports-tech and more. Applications are open for the next cohort online.

Here are the 14 companies making up the cohort:

  • Concerto Commerce, based in Southlake, Texas, is an eCommerce platform that combines automated catalog management and payment processing to streamline reseller operations.
  • New York City-based Dailyhuman is a software platform designed to help companies retain employees by fostering safety, trust, and connection in the workplace.
  • Headquartered in Houston, FrakBlock is a blockchain-based predictive tool providing financial products for the adulting process of young teens in Latin America.
  • High Tech Ranch Solutions, from The Woodlands, is a digital ranch management system designed by ranchers to bring monitoring to the palm of your hand.
  • Santa Barbara, California-based Homesavi is a platform that helps first-time homebuyers understand the home-buying process and guides them to their dream home.
  • Louder.ai is an advertising platform that revolutionizes how people can support causes they care about and see the impact of their donations.
  • Mallard Bay, founded out of Louisiana State University, is a marketplace for guided hunting and fishing trips that streamlines booking and administrative processes for consumers and outfitters. The company won Softeq's prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • RYN is a social platform to help families in the Middle East find and employ household migrant workers providing better working and living conditions.
  • Delaware-based SAmAS Gamify is building a gamified psychometric assessment platform that helps employers evaluate and select the most qualified candidates.
  • Founded in North Carolina, ShopAgain is an AI-powered customer retention platform redefining personalized customer experiences for eCommerce businesses.
  • Houston-based TeeMates Golf is a mobile app that connects golfers worldwide using social media, tee time linking, and offers a merchandise marketplace.
  • ViiT Health, based in Mexico, is a non-invasive technology to help people measure and monitor blood sugar levels more accurately without a finger prick lancet.
  • WellnessWins is a CRM to streamline intake processes for private therapy clinics to reduce waitlists and increase access to mental health care.
  • WorkHint helps retail companies manage on-demand hourly talent to increase flexibility, reduce cost, and generate actionable data-driven insights.
Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startup recognized for inclusivity on journey to commercialize next-gen therapeutics

future of medicine

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.

Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to be in the health and nutrition category at SXSW.

“We did really well, but there was another company that also did really well. And so we were not selected for the pitch competition, which we were a little bummed about because I killed the pitch,” Burkhardt recalls.

But Phiogen is worthy of note, pitch competition or not. The new company spun off from research at Dr. Anthony Maresso’s TAILOR Labs, a personalized phage therapy center at Baylor College of Medicine, last June.

“Our whole goal is to create the next generation of anti-infectives,” says Burkhardt.

That means that the company is making alternatives to antibiotics, but as Burkhardt says, “We’re hoping to be better than antibiotics.”

How does it work? Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

“You can imagine them as the predators in the bacteria world, but they don't infect humans. They don't affect animals. They only infect bacteria,” Burkhardt explains.

Phiogen utilizes carefully honed bacteriophages to attack bacteria that include the baddies behind urinary tract infection (UTI), bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and skin wounds.

The team’s primary focus is on treatment-resistant UTI. One example was a male patient who received Phiogen’s treatment thanks to an emergency-use authorization from the FDA. The gentleman had been suffering from an infection for 20 years. He was treated with Phiogen’s bacteriophage therapy for two weeks and completely cleared his infection with no recurrence.

Amanda Burkhardt is the CEO of Phiogen. Photo via LinkedIn

But Phiogen has its sights set well beyond the first maladies it’s treated. An oft-quoted 2016 report projected that by 2050, 10 million people a year will be dying from drug-resistant infections.

“A lot of scientists call it the silent pandemic because it's happening now, we're living in it, but there's just not as much being said about it because it normally happens to people who are already in the hospital for something else, or it's a comorbidity, but that's not always the case, especially when we're talking about urinary tract infections,” says Burkhardt.

Bacteriophages are important because they can be quickly trained to fight against resistant strains, whereas it takes years and millions of dollars to develop new antibiotics. There are 13 clinical trials that are currently taking place for bacteriophage therapy. Burkhardt estimates that the treatment method will likely gain FDA approval in the next five years.

“The FDA actually has been super flexible on progressing forward. Because they are naturally occurring, there's not really a safety risk with these products,” she says.

And Burkhardt, whose background is in life-science commercialization, says there’s no better place to build Phiogen than in Houston.

“You have Boston, you have the Bay [Area], and you have the Gulf Coast,” she says. “And Houston is cheaper, the people are friendlier, and it’s not a bad place to be in the winter.”

She also mentions the impressive shadow that Helix Park will cast over the ecosystem. Phiogen will move later this year to the new campus — one of the labs selected to join Baylor College of Medicine.

And as for that prize, chances are, it won’t be Phiogen’s last.

Houston student selected for prestigious health care research program

bright future

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.”

Ziaee aims to become a physician who can use an understanding of social health conditions to guide his clinical practice. At a young age, he was inspired to go into the field by his family's own experience.

According to UH, Ziaee is the oldest child of Iranian American immigrants. He saw firsthand the challenges of how language and cultural barriers can impact patients' access to and level of care.

“I think a lot of people define health as purely biological, but a lot of other factors influence our well-being, such as mental health, financial health, and even access to good food, medical care and the internet,” he said in a statement. “I am interested in seeing the relationship among all these things and how they impact our health. So far, a lot of health policies and systems have not really looked beyond biology.”

"I want everyone to have an equal chance to access health care and take charge of their well-being. We need to have the systems in place that let people do that,” he added.

Ziaee is already on his way to helping Houston-based and national health systems and organizations make headway in this area.

He was named as a student regent on the UH System Board of Regents last year, sits on the board of the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross, and is an Albert Schweitzer Fellow.

Last year he was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John R. Lewis scholar, for which he presented his research project about predicting food insecurity in pediatric clinical settings and recommendations to improve the assessment based off his summer research with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Prior to this, he completed a 10-week guided research experience using data visualization and predictive modeling techniques to assess food insecurity in the Third Ward.

“I just took every opportunity that came to me,” Ziaee said. “All my experiences connect with my central desire to increase health access and improve health care. I am very intentional about connecting the dots to my passion.”

Earlier this year, three UH student researchers were named among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). The projects were each awarded between about $750,000 to up to $1.5 million.

Houston tech entrepreneur expands energy data co. in Europe, continues to scale

houston innovators podcast episode 229

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector. But CEO Sean Kelly says he doesn't run his business like an energy company.

Kelly explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that he chooses to run Amperon as a tech company when it comes to hiring and scaling.

"There are a lot of energy companies that do tech — they'll hire a large IT department, they'll outsource a bunch of things, and they'll try to undergo a product themselves because they think it should be IP," he says on the show. "A tech company means that at your core, you're trying to build the best and brightest technology."

To Kelly, Amperon should be hiring in the same field as Google and other big tech companies that sit at the top of the market. And Kelly has done a lot of hiring recently. Recently closing the company's $20 million series B round last fall led by Energize Capital, Amperon has tripled its team in the past 14 months.

With his growing team, Kelly also speaks to the importance of partnerships as the company scales. Earlier this month, Amperon announced that it is replatforming its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure. The partnership with the tech giant allows Amperon's energy sector clients to use Microsoft's analytics stack with Amperon data.

And there are more collaborations where that comes from.

"For Amperon, 2024 is the year of partnerships," Kelly says on the podcast. "I think you'll see partnership announcements here in the next couple of quarters."

Along with more partners, Amperon is entering an era of expansion, specifically in Europe, which Kelly says has taken place at a fast pace.

"Amperon will be live in a month in 25 countries," he says.

While Amperon's technology isn't energy transition specific, Kelly shares how it's been surprising how many clean tech and climate tech lists Amperon has made it on.

"We don't brand ourselves as a clean tech company," Kelly says, "but we have four of the top six or eight wind providers who have all invested in Amperon. So, there's something there."

Amperon, which originally founded in 2018 before relocating to Houston a couple of years ago, is providing technology that helps customers move toward a lower carbon future.

"If you look at our customer base, Amperon is the heart of the energy transition. And Houston is the heart of the energy transition," he says.